Increasingly Republican Crowd at This Year's ‘Shad Planking' in Virginia

Before a nearly all-Republican crowd among the smallest in the Shad Planking's 65 years, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli dismissed his absent Democratic foe in this year's governor's race as a Virginia outsider and Washington insider.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe chose not to attend the event, the second former DNC chairman in as many years to miss the increasingly Republican annual event in the piney woods near Wakefield.

Cuccinelli flayed McAuliffe over his electric-car startup -- GreenTech Automotive -- which commenced operations in Mississippi, not Virginia.

"We're talking about the jobs and creating the opportunity for those jobs to happen here in Virginia," Cuccinelli said. "I mean, I'm happy for Mississippi to get some jobs [t]here, North Carolina maybe some jobs there, but Virginia is what we're talking about."

He stressed McAuliffe's ties to the national Democratic machinery in Washington, where he was the chief financial rainmaker for the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

"If you like what you see in Washington, there's a candidate in this race. He comes from Washington and his name is Terry McAuliffe. And if you think there is a better way to do things and we have a better shot at that by applying Virginia values, there's another candidate in this race for you, and I am that candidate," Cuccinelli said.

He was appealing to a crowd that was overwhelmingly white, rural and male.

With seven months remaining until election day, already both candidates -- neither well-known and neither particularly popular with voters, polling shows -- are playing up the other's failings and scandals.

As Cuccinelli brought up GreenTech, a company McAuliffe acquired in 2009 after his last unsuccessful gubernatorial bid and chaired until November when he quietly resigned to campaign, McAuliffe's campaign retaliated with Cuccinelli's ties to a troubled maker of nutritional supplements.

"While Ken Cuccinelli was launching misleading attacks to avoid talking about his ongoing conflict of interest scandal and divisive ideological agenda, Terry was visiting community colleges talking about the need for workforce development to diversify the economy," McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said in an emailed statement responding to Cuccinelli's fusillade earlier in the day.

"Unfortunately for voters, it frequently seems like the only job Ken Cuccinelli cares about his his own as attorney general," he said.

The only Democrat on the dais -- in fact, the only Democratic officeholder at the event -- was Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, whose House district takes in part of Tidewater Virginia's rural Sussex County. Not one Democratic yard sign was to be found at the wooded park that is the event venue or among thousands of GOP candidate signs bristling from miles of country roadside leading to it.

Democratic former Del. Ray Ashworth represented the area in the House of Delegates for 14 years until 1983. He's seen attendance dwindle in attendance in recent years, something that's inevitable when Democrats decide it's not an event where they feel comfortable.

Former Gov. Tim Kaine skipped the event last year in his successful U.S. Senate race, leaving the stage entirely to his Republican opponent, former Gov. George Allen.

"You can't attribute it to anything but no Democrats being here," Ashworth said. "Shame, isn't it?"

There's irony in that. The Shad Planking was born as a way for the segregationist Democratic machine that ruled Virginia through the middle of the 20th century to introduce its anointed candidates for statewide office.

Now, but for Tyler and a handful of Democratic operatives mingling in the crowd, it's wall-to-wall Republican.

For Tyler, who is black, the spectacle of large Confederate flags that were fluttering a few hundred feet away was hurtful. Many of those in the crowd wore the flag emblem on stickers plastered on their shirts alongside GOP candidate campaign stickers and orange stickers that read "Guns Save Lives."

"When I see that, it reminds me that there are people who are not accepting of all people," she said as the dais cleared after Cuccinelli's speech. "It shows me that we as a people still have a long way to come."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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